Thursday, 16 December 2010

STIRRED BUT NOT SHAKEN......


I stopped being a Bond fan around about the time of THUNDERBALL. Since then I've caught them if they come my way but don't seek them out. But I appreciate that there are lots of people out there that love them. Today I received a nice e-mail from the BBC telling me about some sort of Bondage Festival (sorry, couldn't resist the old joke) that they are having. I usually resist e-mails from any individuals or organisations wanting me to advertise on their behalf or help them raise money to finance some dodgy film production but this one was very polite and it seems to me it might actually interest any Bond fans reading this blog, so click here http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/james_bond to find out what it's all about.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

THE 39 STEPS (1935)

A few weeks ago I had a whole evening of watching vintage Hitchcock films on DVD. I viewed THE THIRTY NINE STEPS, THE LADY VANISHES and SABOTAGE. The films - particularly the first two - hold up very well although to be fair virtually any Hitchcock film can be safely revisited without fear of boredom. It is difficult to choose a favourite out of STEPS or LADY as both are excellent entertainments packed with both adventure and humour (a recent re-reading of the original 1915 STEPS novel by John Buchan convinced me that the plot devised for the Hitchcock film is vastly more exciting than the original story which, for me is the weakest of the four novels featuring Richard Hannay). A chance meeting with an old friend from the 70's alerted me to the fact that a group of film enthusiasts known as the White Bus Company were screening Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS in darkest Westcliff. Seeing the film again on a big (or biggish) screen with an appreciative audience was a real treat. The White Bus crowd are a friendly bunch who love movies, preserve them and screen them. As for the film itself, it easily stands up to many viewings and hardly needs to be discussed here except it deserves its reputation as one of the truly great British films and the performances by the entire cast are excellent with only superlatives being good enough for the stars - Robert Donat and Madeline Carroll. Rating *****

Saturday, 4 December 2010

AUS DEM LEBEN DER MARIONETTEN/ From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)


Made during Ingmar Bergman's exile in Germany this is one of the dour Swede's bleakest works. The optimism that shone even in the darkest films of his early period and the obvious human concern for the troubled characters of the middle period has now disappeared. This is a cold and detached examination of a troubled soul. The film starts with a colour sequence in which the main character (brilliantly played by Robert Atzorn) murders and sodomizes a prostitute in a Munich peepshow. You know any film that starts like that is not going to be a lot of laughs! Bergman's films have often been concerned with psychological violence but his German films (this and THE SERPENT'S EGG) are the culmination of an increasing tendency for this to spill over into a physical manifestation which when it happens is disturbing in the extreme. Christine Buchegger (above with Atzorn in a fantasy sequence) is superb as the wife and Walter Schmidinger is outstanding as their gay friend (?). While watching the film I decided that I really didn't like it much but the next morning I find that it's images and themes are still with me. This is Bergman at the true Heart of Darkness. The mysterious title is a quote from PINOCCHIO.Rating ****

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

THE INVASION (2007)



Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers is really bucking the odds. This is the fourth film version and so far each one has something to recommend it. There was Donald Siegel's classic 1956 version and Philip Kaufman's rather good remake and then what was probably the least interesting - Abel Ferrera's THE BODY SNATCHERS (although by no means a dud) - and now it is the turn of Oliver Hirschbiegel, director of DOWNFALL. Despite what seems to have been a very troubled production which involved extra scenes being directed by James McTeague (and written by the Warchowski Brothers no less) the film is not a complete disaster. This version is set in Washington D.C. and stars Nicole Kidman (looking very beautiful but oh so thin) as a psychiatrist (in Washington it must be difficult to sort strange behaviour there!) and rather that the giant pods of the book we now have a virus pandemic - although sleep is still the catalyst. Kidman is excellent and there is a fine supporting cast including a nice bit from Veronica Cartwright who was also in the Kaufman version (no Kevin McCarthy this time). I did get the impression that they didn't really know how to end the film and it all seems a bit rushed with an unconvincing domestic epilogue. But by far the worst thing about the film is the bland performance by Daniel Craig whom I found totally unconvincing as Kidman's doctor boyfriend. Entertaining. Rating **

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

ZHAN YEN TAN/Beach of the War Gods (1973)

I first saw this in London's Casino cinema in Old Compton Street. It was cut and badly dubbed but it made me a fan of it's star and director Yu Wang (credited variously as Wang Yu or Jimmy Wang Yu) who, according to some sources, had initiated Hong Kong's Kung Fu film industry with his film CHINESE BOXER which paved the way for Bruce Lee. But for me the best Yu Wang films are the wuxia - the sword and spear fighting films of which BEACH OF THE WAR GODS is an excellent example. It is quite an ambitious film which takes its inspiration from Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI and, at least in its opening sequences, from Clint Eastwood. Like many Chinese films it is violently ant-Japanese. Back in the 80's both this film and Yu Wang's ONE ARMED BOXER were issued by Rank on widescreen uncut VHS tapes but neither has been easily available for years. The copy to hand, which I picked up from a seller on Amazon, is widescreen, uncut and subtitled (if somewhat eccentrically) and is released by Fortune Star and is a welcome addition to my collection. Rating ****

Monday, 22 November 2010

IN MEMORIAM

BORIS KARLOFF
23 NOVEMBER 1887 - 2 FEBRUARY 1969

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

Quentin Tarantino. I liked RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN when Tarantino seemed to have real control of his material. I even enjoyed KILL BILL 1 & 2 because it was a genuine homage to a genre that Tarantino loves and understands - it was a knowing conversation with others who enjoy the films it was referencing. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is my least favourite QT film. This is not to say its badly made - individual scenes are very well directed - especially some of the Hitchcockian stuff towards the end - but the problem is that none of it holds together. There are two films here and the fight against one another ultimately beat each other to death. The first is a crude DIRTY DOZEN parody with Brad Pitt leading a group of scalp hunting Jewish soldiers behind enemy lines to kill and demoralize the Nazis. Where Robert Aldrich (for all the questional tone of his film) built his story slowly QT leaps from recruiting talk to action without taking a breath. The characters are shallow comic book cut outs badly drawn and in Brad Pitt's case ludicrously over acted. Yes, I know it is fantasy comic book stuff and perhaps it wouldn't matter too much if the other story, which is padded out by these scenes, isn't a rather tight little Hitchcock thriller involving the manageress of a Paris cinema's plot to wipe out the German high command (including Hitler himself who seems to have wandered in from THE PRODUCERS). Linking the two is Christopher Waltz as an SS officer giving a performance that quite probably dererved the Oscar it earned him. So its very much up and down. A parody, a straight thriller, a comedy, a homage (the film's opening scene seems to be parodying THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY unless I'm mistaken) and ending up as a bit of a shapeless mess. There are lots of references to pre-war German and wartime French cinema (Clouzot's LE CORBEAU is showing at the cinema) and Emil Jannings turns up briefly as a character. A final rather sad observation is the glee with which American soldiers are shown graphically scalping and beating nazis to death with baseball bats. This has little to do with jews taking revenge and is rather Americans acting like nazis (without any of the irony inherent in Aldrich's DOZEN). Modern parallels spring to mind but I doubt if Tarantino intended that. He just enjoyed it. Rating **

HELL, HEAVEN OR HOBOKEN ?........You're kidding me!


When Cerpts told me that the 1958 British war film I WAS MONTY'S DOUBLE was listed on IMDb as HELL, HEAVEN OR HOBOKEN I thought he was either joking or inhaling illegal substances. But sure enough it is listed as the film's American title. A mistake surely...but the title also appears on websites for ROTTEN TOMATOES and TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES. Can any body explain the title to me?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

FILMS THAT SHOUL BE ON DVD No.2

It is a real mystery why this gem of a gangster film is not available on DVD. It was around on VHS for ages and given the popularity of gangster and mafia movies in the wake of Coppola's THE GODFATHER, not to mention the reputation of Rod Steiger as an actor this would seem a prime choice for DVD release. Director Richard Wilson, a long time associate of Orson Welles made only ten films as a director. Although I've seen the film many times I've never owned a copy - I did record it to VHS the last time it was shown on television but never kept the tape because the print shown was incomplete, missing the first meeting between Steiger and the character played by Fay Spain. Richard Wilson also directed another excellent gangster movie called PAY OR DIE starring Ernest Borgnine which although released in America on DVD by Warners is now a deleted title.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

FILMS THAT SHOULD BE ON DVD No.1

THE MAGICIAN (1926) directed by Rex Ingram (not to be confused with the geni from THIEF OF BAGDAD) and based on a novel by W.Somerset Maugham. The film stars German actor Paul Wegener as Oliver Haddo, a magician inspired by Aleister Crowley. Read about the film in an excellent article from Films in Review by clicking here. For fans of silent cinema, horror films or just simply films this would seem to be a perfect choice for DVD release by Criterion or Masters of Cinema.




Wednesday, 3 November 2010

THE TRAGEDY OF RICHARD III (1983)

RICHARD III is my favourite Shakespeare play but it is rare that we get to see the full text - least of all on film or TV versions. The BBC's version for their COMPLETE DRAMATIC WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE is as near complete as I've ever seen. I've seen many actors play the hunchback king - Olivier, Ian McKellan, Paul Daneman, Anthony Sher, Ian Holm among them (not to mention non-Shakespearean portrayals by Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price and even Oliver Reed) and I rate Ron Cook's portrayal as among the best. My initial reaction to his opening "Now is the winter of our discontent...." speech was disappointment but this was because the shadow of Olivier's wonderful pantomime demon king in the 1955 hangs heavy over the role.The speech itself is an actor's declaration of how he is playing the king and by the end of the scene Cook had completely won me over. The direction is deceptively simple but totally suited to the drama which is played out against a very effective set made from old timber and discarded wooden doors. Costumes are traditional and highly inventive and the supporting cast is superlative with some interesting familiar faces including Zoe Wanamaker, Annette Crosbie, Patsy Kensit, Tenniel Evans and Bernard Hill. It is common in Shakespeare to see actors play more than one role in a production but here I felt it could be quite confusing to anybody coming to the play for the first time - Bernard Hill plays First Murderer and at least three minor roles - at one time appearing on both sides of the warring factions in successive scenes. If I had to single out one performance for unexpected brilliance it is Julia Foster as mad Queen Margaret and the final scene of the production with her, wild eyed and wilder haired, cackling madly on a huge pile of corpses is truly disturbing. Also, a special word of praise for the fight arranger because the final scene as Tudor's men close in for the kill looks truly dangerous. Rating ****

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

PSYCHOVILLE HALLOWEEN (2010)

With Mark Gatiss off conquering the world it has been left to those other two gentlemen of the League and masters of the grotesque, Steve Pemberton ans Reece Shearsmith to provide some superior Halloween spookiness. Just as the LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN Christmas special took characters from the hit series and used them for an Amicus style portmanteau horror spoof so the weirdos from the series PSYCHOVILLE all turn up in this - again Amicus style - quartet of tricks and treats. Spoof it maybe but it works very well as a horror film as Pemberton and Shearsmith know exactly what buttons to press from the big scares down to little touches of revulsion such as the severed tongue still attached to a postage stamp or the sucking sound of Dawn French using a breast pump....although the clown who finds himself being given a blowjob by a Satanic goat takes some beating. Framing story of the exploration of a deserted and reputedly haunted Psychiatric hospital works well with a great performance by Eileen Atkins as the matron. Wonderfully mean spirited and nasty fun. Rating ****

Sunday, 31 October 2010

KINGS OF THE SUN (1963)

Some might call KINGS OF THE SUN a guilty pleasure but why should we feel guilty about innocent pleasure. Reading the IMDb discussion boards there seem to be a lot of people who feel the same about this movie as I do. Many years ago when George Chakiris visited by hometown I asked him about the film and he said that it was great fun to make. And that, I think, sums the movie up. So what have we got? Well, for a start the film is about Mayans which means the characters get to wear flower pots on their heads or more spectacular headgear that looks like it had been liberated from the wardrobe of Carmen Miranda. The Mayans are forced to flee their homeland in the Yucatan Peninsula because they are being attacked by Leo Gordon (and in movies being attacked by Leo is a serious matter). They end up somewhere in Texas where they come into contact with Native Americans led by a Russian from Vladivostok who bears a remarkable resemblance to the King of Siam. The plot is pretty silly but like many silly things it is great fun. One of the real pleasures is watching the actors for a variety of reasons. Brad Dexter copes bravely trying not to look silly with a flowerpot on his head while Richard Basehart manfully deals with the ridiculous wig he has to wear before giving up and committing suicide. Then there is the strange case of Shirley Ann Field. She was probably a very nice girl but I never really saw any sign of acting ability - her lines here and in all her films being spoken in a droning monotone that destroys any dramatic value they may have had. She is, to say the least, a very unconvincing Mayan (and to stand out on that account in this film is something of an achievement). And then there is Yul Brynner - sinuous, charismatic, panther-like and the epitome of a star. When Brynner is on screen nobody else stands a chance. Enjoy. Rating ***

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

MA BARKER'S KILLER BROOD (1960)

Aaahh! Some trash at last! Made ten years before Roger Corman pervy version starring Shelley Winters, this is an another inaccurate (although slightly less so than Corman's) retelling of the story of Ma Barker and her boys. It is generally accepted now that the legend of the gun-toting old lady beloved by Hollywood was created by the FBI when they discovered the dead body of the old girl when they shot it out with her son Arthur. But the old John Ford dictum "When the legend becomes fact print the legend" holds true and rather that showing Ma cleaning their shirts and cooking their grits we again have Ma as the machine gun brandishing brains behind the Barker gang. Laurene Tuttle plays the part well, encouraging he boys to steal, kidnap and murder. The real-life brains of the gang seems to have been Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, played here by Paul Dubov - having his second stab at the character after having played him five years earlier for the same director in the GANG BUSTERS series. The film is no masterpiece but it has a nice low-budget 1950's feel to it which gives it a nice seedy atmosphere. Inaccurately, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Machine Gun Kelly all turn up - the first two as actual members of Ma's gang! Rating **

Thursday, 21 October 2010

THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (2010)

With this television film adaption of the novel by H.G.Wells, on which he is executive producer, scriptwriter and star, Mark Gatiss continues his plan to dominate the BBC airwaves. With the serialisation of his novel The Devil in Amber (read by Gatiss himself) on Radio 7 and his recent SHERLOCK series plus his A HISTORY OF HORROR and now THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON it is getting difficult to turn on the television or radio without tripping over him. But given his track record so far I'd give him the whole BBC to play with if he wanted it. Gatiss takes the moon landing of 1969 as his jumping off (or back) point for a pretty faithful adaption of the Wells novel and while and space adventure set in Edwardian times is bound to be a WALLACE AND GROMIT, or Steam Punk as they call it now,but that only adds to the charm. Gatiss makes a wonderfully eccentric Professor Cavor and Rory Kinnear is his slightly nervous companion Bedford. The special effects are adequate in a nice pre-CGI way and the ant-like Selenites are decidedly creepy with the Grand Lunarite looking like something from the mind of H.P.Lovecraft. Great fun. Rating ***

Sunday, 17 October 2010

ON THE BEAT (1962)


Increasingly in recent years, old English films in black and white have become like comfort food for me. It is the simple pleasure of nostalgia - of seeing the world I grew up in. ON THE BEAT was released in 1962, the year that I left school and started work. By that time I felt I had outgrown the comedies of Norman Wisdom which I had enjoyed as a child. Norman's recent death spurred me to see at least one of his films again and by sheer luck it turned out to be ON THE BEAT which was transmitted as a tribute to Sir Norman. And what a tribute! Norman's style of clowning has gone out of fashion with the public and was never really in fashion with the highbrow critics but I suspect that now he has gone his comedy legacy will be re-evaluated and rehabilitated much as Benny Hill's has been. Of the films of Norman's that I have seen ON THE BEAT is easily the best and any doubt that he was one of the greatest British clowns must vanish after seeing it. The film is genuinely funny, highly inventive and a perfect showcase for Norman's many talents (as a physical clown he is in the first order) and as a plus the film features a dazzling array of great British character actors - I can't remember when I've seen Raymond Huntley having so much fun and to see David Lodge trying to teach Norman to do a mincing walk is a sheer joy. The long chase scene involving a veritable army of police constables is equal to anything done by The Keystone Kops. It's a police comedy with Norman in a dual role as police wannabe and an Italian gangster and for once his "little chap" pathos which somewhat marred his films is played down to an acceptable level and he doesn't get to sing (thankfully, in my opinion). It's a classic. Rating ****

View the entire film by clicking this link : Norman Wisdom in ON THE BEAT

Saturday, 16 October 2010

THE KILLER INSIDE ME (2010)


I watch movies for many reasons. This one is the total opposite of the Norman Wisdom film reviewed elsewhere. I am quite happy to be just entertained and I like movies that make think about issues, but perhaps the films I enjoy most are those where I have to mentally engage with the film-maker. I really don't mind not having thinks spelled out for me, I don't need every single point of a film being explained to me. I appreciate that there are writers and directors out there who don't underestimate their target audience and trust them to meet the material to meet half way. Of course, sometimes I'm dumb and miss a lot of points (as I did with Chabrol's MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT) but on those occasions I'm usually aware that I've missed something and am prepared to put a little more effort into my viewing. THE KILLER INSIDE ME certainly demands effort on many levels. Controversially it contains a couple of scenes of violence against women which some may feel go too far in the way they are shown but I think that is separate discussion. The film is about madness - about a mad killer who happens to be a deputy sheriff in West Texas (the film is based on a novel by Jim Thompson which is set in the 1950's) and the film itself makes no moral judgements but rather simply observes Lou Ford (a brilliantly chilling performance by Casey Affleck) as he spirals out of control. Watching the movie it is difficult to decide how much of what we see is real and how much is in Ford's mind - certainly the ending will provoke endless discussion. It's a complex film which demands an effort on the part of the viewer. Of course, I'm sure, some will take everything simply at face value and that also is a valid way to see it - but I'm pretty sure it results in a less rich experience. Not for the squeamish. Rating ****

Note : The story was previously filmed under the same title by Burt Kennedy and starring Stacy Keach in the 1970's.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

"Karloff was a pussycat" says Gloria Stuart.

Any programme devoted to the history of horror films is welcome and when that programme is written and directed by bonafide horror film fan Mark Gatiss (as part of his current bid for world domination) then it is doubly welcome. In his new three part series, not surprisingly called A HISTORY OF HORROR, Gatiss provides us with a basic guide through the popular horror film. In no way do I use the word "basic" to deride the show for it is in all ways excellent. For those who know little of the genre it will provide a good grounding and while long-time horror fans like myself and Cerpts probably won't learn much that is new the show does show us a whole coffin load of wonders such as Lon Chaney's original makeup kit, a tour of Universal's Frankenstein village and the opera house set of the first PHANTOM - not to mention Sarah Karloff's wonderful bathroom! The clips are well chosen as are the interviewees such as Gloria Stuart (possibly one of her final interviews) and a British actress who toured in a stage production of DRACULA with Lugosi in the Fifties.John Carpenter tells us that he thinks Val Lewton is "way over-rated" (although Gatiss obviously doesn't agree) and Donny Dunegan contributes memories of working with Karloff and Lugosi on SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. I'm looking forward to the next two episodes and a DVD release. A real winner.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT/Night Cap (1999)


The recent death of Claude Chabrol has reawakened my interest in this director. I've been a fan for many years but his death made me realise that recently I've somewhat taken his talent for granted. Often it is useful to go back and reassess films that we saw many years ago. We, hopefully, mature, understand the language of films a little better, have different values and a better appreciation of the subtleties of human behaviour which enable us to see things in films that we missed on a first viewing. A recent re-viewing of Chabrol's LE BOUCHER on television made me feel it was a greater film than I had originally thought. I was surprised to see how much of Chabrol's ouvre is now available on DVD (although sadly there is no sign of his "Tiger" euro-spy films - reportedly not good but high on my list of films I want to see) and I've recently gone through Lovefilm's catalogue clicking the "rent" button on a host of Chabrol titles. First to arrive is MERCI POUR LE CHOCOLAT and it is a perfect example of Chabrol's talent. It is a deceptively simple film, so deceptive that as it ended I was quite taken back - thinking that I'd missed something. I went back to the beginning and watched it again and it all fell into place and Chabrol's seemingly abrupt ending made perfect sense. The making of documentary included as an extra is particularly revealing (confirming my own interpretations) and providing a very welcome chance to watch Chabrol at work and talking about the film. Chabrol describes the film as a detective story but at first it seems we have no detective. Of course we, the audience are the detective, provided with clues to a crime we don't know about and another that has not yet happened. We have a suspect whose guilt is revealed to us simply be her behaviour rather than seeing any crime commited. Wonderfully subtle performance by Isabel Huppert who like Stephane Audran before her seems perfectly in tune with the director. Look out for the cushion cover. Rating ****

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

INCENSE OF THE DAMNED/ Bloodsuckers (1970)


Based on an interesting novel called Doctors Wear Scarlet by Simon Raven this is a real treat for the connoisseur of bad movies. Director Robert Hartford Davis claimed that the film was never finished and had his name removed from the credits and its easy to see why. It was made in 1970 but not released until six years later. The story starts with an echo of Hammer's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT with a group of friends meeting to discuss rescuing Patrick Mower from bad company. They set off for Greece where they find him under the influence of a beautiful vampire. Rescue follows but back in England all is not well. The editing is slack, the script is banal and even the trailer which is included as an extra is better than the film it is advertising. So why in the demented fleapit I call a brain did I enjoy this film so much? Well it has a cast to relish with Peter Cushing, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Mower. See Patrick Mower spank a donkey, see Imogen Hassell as a mini-skirted vampire, see David Lodge as greek cop, see the best man on a donkey chasing a vampire on a donkey chase ever filmed and see giant rocks bounce of Patrick Mower's head, see Madeline Hinde's as Cushing's daughter struggle to react convincingly to anything that is said to her (at one point she even fails to leave a room convincingly), watch Johnny Sekka trying to dance and see Mower and Hassell indulging in some serious tongue fencing - but best of all see Edward Woodward's cameo as a vampire expert which is very funny (and Woodward knows it!) The DVD contains a deleted scene as an extra - a 7 minute drug fuelled orgy which looks like it was imported from a Jesus Franco film. Rating ** but fun.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

SEARCHERS 2.0 (2007)


I knew nothing about this until I saw it listed on the BBC iplayer. Immeadiatly I was intrigued by the credts - a coproduction between the BBC and Roger Corman, produced by John Davison and written and directed by Alex Cox. I like Cox a lot, I like his enthusiasm, I like the way he talks about other peoples movies and I admire the way he weaves his way through the film industry determindly setting up intriguingly offbeat subjects. Unfortunately I never seem to like the films themselves. Good in parts but often over indulgent, meandering in the extreme and often a bit silly. SEARCHER 2.0 is his most likeable film for some time - indeed I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Two ageing Western film extras decide to travel to Monument Valley to revenge themselves of a sadistic screenwriter who had abused them as child performers in one of his films. With the help of one of the men's cynical daughter they set off for Arizona. Some of the script is amusing as the men argue about their favourite Westerns, revenge movies and the Iraq War ("It's our gas - it just happens to be under their desert!"). It should work better than it actually does, the two leads are not very strong in the acting department and it never really takes fire. But, having said that it is hard not to be sympathetic towards the project and if you like road movies and Westerns you should give it a try. Rating ***

Monday, 4 October 2010

JUSTE AVANTE LA NUIT/Just Before Nightfall


The late Claude Chabrol doing what he did better than anybody - exploring guilt against the background of the outwardly respectable French bourgeoisie. Add to this two of his most sympathetic actors - his wife Stephane Audran and the always excellent Michel Bouquet (also teamed in LA FEMME INFIDELE) and a plot that starts with a murder and you know you are in for something special. There is no mystery here as we see the murder in the opening minutes of the film (which begins with a visual quote from Hitchcock's PSYCHO) because as I said above Chabrol's interest lies not with the crime but with the guilt - and it is not necessarily the guilt felt by the murderer. For, being a Chabrol film, everybody else in the film becomes equally guilty after the fact, a witness, the victim's husband, the muderer's wife, even the police. And, of course, it's as French as a shrug of the shoulders. Rating ****

Sunday, 3 October 2010

DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT (1941)

I've been after this film for a while now and was given a DVD by a friend only this weekend. The film, which is best remembered today for "The Warsaw Concerto" is a romantic drama about an American girl (Sally Gray) who meets and marries a concert pianist (played by Anton Walbrook) who had been one of the Polish pilots to escape from the German invasion in 1939. In America Walbrook resumes his concert career but is obsessed with returning to Europe to continue the fight against the nazis. The film is pretty ordinary in its execution but none the worse for that, although how much you enjoy it will probably depend on how big an Anton Walbrook fan you are. I enjoyed it immensely. Rating ***

OSSESSIONE (1943)

James M.Cain has been quite lucky with film adaptions of his novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. There have been two versions under the book's title - an excellent 4o's version by Tay Garnett with John Garfield and Lana Turner and a later rather good version by Bob Rafelson with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange. The first version, however, was made in wartime Italy by the great Luchino Visconti. It is a fascinating mixture of neo-realism and film noir and perfectly captures the seedy, sweaty atmosphere of the original novel. The stark black and white photography and austere settings are perfectly matched by the performances by Clara Calamai, Massimo Girotti and Juan de Lauda. I can;t say it is my favourite version but undoubtably it is the best. Rating *****

Thursday, 30 September 2010

TONY CURTIS 1925 - 2010


Whenever possible I like to pass on personal memories of those film celebrities that I have been lucky enough to meet personally. Tony Curtis was one of those. It was sometime during the mid-60's that I was lucky enough to spend time in the presence of Tony and his then wife, the actress Christine Kaufman, in their suite at London's Savoy Hotel. I had just delivered some tickets to them and in the process of bringing them to the hotel I had been caught in a downpour of rain. Tony insisted on sending my jacket to be dried which took about twenty minutes. He was completely unaffected by his star status and talked about his early days working in Universal Studios. Despite his pretty boy looks (and he was ridiculously handsome even during the 60's) Curtis was a fine actor, as witness such films as THE OUTSIDER, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, SPARTACUS, THE VIKINGS and others.Sadly, as the looks faded Tony didn't seem to handle it too well and he appeared in a succession of bizarre toupees and hats. In the last couple of years he seems to have found peace with himself. He was 85 when he died and it was a privilege to have shared 20 minutes or so of that remarkable life.

Monday, 20 September 2010

SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009)

Eighteen minutes into this film I thought "Why am I watching this piece of shit?".

Friday, 17 September 2010

CORRIE : THE ROAD TO CORONATION STREET (2010)


Charles Sturridge's television film based on actor/writer Tony Warren's fight to get his script for "Florizel Street" made by Granada Television is as perfect a piece of entertainment as I've seen on the box for many a day. It's easy to get snobby about soaps - I've given them up along with broadcast television - but I still remember clearly the day back in 1960 when CORONATION STREET(as it eventually became) first appeared on our screens. I was 14 at the time and now 50 years later it is still running. Like many I followed it for years and for many years I enjoyed it for its balance of drama and comedy. I was never a fanatical follower and it never worried me if I missed episodes but it was part of my life and there were many characters that I still feel genuinely fond of. This film tells how the show came into being, how the pivotal characters were cast and ends just as the first episode goes on air.I admit that I felt quite emotional watching it and loved the way that, like the show, it balanced the drama and comedy. It is helped enormously by casting that is near genius. David Dawson is superb as Tony Warren - keeping his portrayal of the then 22 year old writer just this side of camp - while it took me a good thirty minutes before I realised that the Canadian producer Harry Elton was played by none other than Christian Mackay who proves that he is more than a one trick pony after his portrayal of Orson Welles in ME AND ORSON WELLES. But Warren and Elton were behind the scenes faces and films of this kind can lose credibility if no attempt is made to cast the more familiar faces. Lynda Barron is magnificent as Violet Carson and Celia Imrie as regally perfect as Doris Speed. A nice touch was having James Roache play his own father William ("Well, it's only for 13 weeks")Roache but the real plaudets must go to actress Jessie Wallace(herself a veteran of over 500 episodes of EAST ENDERS) who gives a performance as Pat Phoenix that is so spookily accurate that it has to be seen to be believed. Steven Berkoff appears as Granada supremo Sidney Bernstein. Script is by Darren Little whose previous work includes EAST ENDERS, HOLLYOAKS and, of course, CORONATION STREET episodes. Rating ****

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Claude Chabrol : A personal appreciation.

The death of Claude Chabrol has robbed the French Cinema and the world of one of its masters. Chabrol started is career as a film critic, one of the group which included his friends Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard who gathered around the influential film journal Cahiers du Cinema. Along with Truffaut, Godard and others he moved on to become a film director and a leading light in the Nouvelle Vague movement that revolutionised French cinema and widely influenced the whole world of film making. Unlike Godard, but like Truffaut, Chabrol was a heart a traditional film-maker and his best films for me are those where he displays his love of classic films, particularly Alfred Hitchcock. But Chabrol was not a slavish imitator like Brian DePalma, his best films shared certain preoccupations with the master. His career embraced everything from literary classics like MADAME BOVARY to Euro-spy films like MARIE CHANTAL CONTRE DR.KHA and his two "TIGER" films - often made as commercial assignments when he neeed to raise money for more personal projects. He made DR. M which was a modern day Dr.Mabuse adventure and on television he even tackled FANTOMAS and Edgar Allan Poe. My favourites among his movies are LE SCANDALE, LA FEMME INFIDELE, THE BEAST MUST DIE, LE BOUCHER, JUSTE AVANTE LA NUIT, LES BICHES, TEN DAYS WONDER, THE HATTER'S GHOST and REINE NE VA PLUS. A favourite moment ? It has to be that heart rending look that passes between Stephane Audran and Michel Bouquet at the very end of LA FEMME INFIDELE - full of emotion but typically Chabrol achieves the effect by having the faces of his actors immobile and blank. Of Chabrol himself - his wonderful, very French, face domininated by his eyes so full of humour (and magnified by his glasses) indicate somebody who enjoyed life as much as he loved cinema. He was married to the beaufiful Stephane Audran who starred in many of his best films. R.I.P.



Thursday, 9 September 2010

THE LOVELY BONES (2010)


I have no idea what the original novel that the film is based on is like although the only person I know who tried to read it hated it. The main problem with Peter Jackson's film version is it can't make up its mind what it wants to be. While it is earthbound it is fine but once we get to heaven we get lost in the too cute CGI effects - we might as well be in Oz with Dorothy. Films based on novels that have unconventional narrative structures are often better off ignoring them rather than finding a cinematic equivalent (am I alone in thinking that the film version of one of my favourite novels THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN totally failed in this mission as well?) and here I kept imagining what a director like Hitchcock or even Claude Chabrol could have done with the story without the heavenly interludes. Given the course the film does take the plot just cries out for some sort of closure for its characters that is dramatically satisfying for its audience and even that is missing from the strangely schizophrenic film. Performances are exemplary with Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon being especially notable. Rating **

LIGHTNING OVER WATER (1980)

Nicholas Ray's films are never less than interesting. Even when not entirely engaged by the project he managed to look at the most commercial subjects from a slightly askew angle and they were never less than entertaining. He was a true Hollywood maverick and therefore had much in common with German director and Ray fan Wim Wenders. The two met when Wenders asked Ray to play a role in his film THE AMERICAN FRIEND and Ray became Wenders American friend. Shortly before Ray's death from cancer Wenders took time of from his own projects to go to New York and stay with Ray and his wife, Sue, in the loft apartment where they lived surrounded by film equipment, books, Mickey Mouse memorabila and a few admirers who seem to have taken up residence in various corners. As film-makers like these often do when they get together it was suggested that they do a film together. This is what there is of that film. Part home movie, part fiction, part documentary there is virtually no structure. We see Ray at a screening of his film THE LUSTY MEN and rehearsing a stage adaption of Kafka's "Report to the Academy" but mostly the film centres on Ray himself - obviously in pain and near to death and relating his philosphy and his fears often in a rambling stream of consciousness. The love of Wenders for his American friend is obvious in the pain on his face and the heart rending honesty of their conversations. Ray himself comes over as likeable and eccentric - a totally bohemian figure at odds with his Hollywood career. I've read that this film is profound - I don't know - but for me its value is that Wenders shares with us that very personal episode of his life and his friend's approaching death and that is extremely moving and valuable to those of us who have admired Nicholas Ray's films. Rating ****

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Here's an interesting one.......

Ward Bond as "John Dodge" alongside John Ford
on the set of THE WINGS OF EAGLES.

Sometime ago I ran a series of posts on this blog about real-life people who have been portrayed by actors in films. One of my regular readers - Ray - has come up with a similar themed question : Real life film directors who have been depicted in films. Let me make it clear that I don't mean film directors who have taken character roles in films - although we might get around to that in the future - because actor/directors are fairly common (i.e.Clint Eastwood). What I mean is film directors who have been played by actors. I will accept examples where a director has played himself in a dramatic presentation as in my first example listed below. I've done no research into this yet but have listed a few examples that immeadiatly come to mind.Please feel free to add to this list via the comment facility or e-mail and I'll list them on the blog proper. Here's my initial list :

Cecil B. DeMille as Cecil B.DeMille in SUNSET BOULEVARD
Ward Bond as "John Dodge" (John Ford) in THE WINGS OF EAGLES
John Malkovich as F.W. Murnau in SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE
John Depp as Edward Wood Jr. in ED WOOD
Ian McKellan as James Whale in GODS AND MONSTERS
Clive Revill as Charles Chaplin in THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR
George Furth as George Cukor in THE SCARLETT O'HARA WAR
Martin Ferrero as George Cukor in GODS AND MONSTERS
Robert Downey Jr. as Charles Chaplin in CHAPLIN
Eddie Izzard as Charles Chaplin in THE CAT'S MEOW
Cary Elwes as Thomas Ince in THE CAT'S MEOW
Colm Feore as D.W.Griffith in AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF
Michael McKean as Christy Cabanne in AND STARRING PANCHO VILLA AS HIMSELF
Kyle Chandler as Raoul Walsh in AND STARRING PANCH VILLA AS HIMSELF

Saturday, 4 September 2010

LES GRANDE MANOUEVERES (1954)

I was quite prepared to dismiss this as a frothy "romantic comedy" - a minor work directed by the great Rene Clair. While I still feel that it is not one of Clair's best films just as the previously reviewed L'AIR DE PARIS was not one of Carne's best it works in part for more or less the same reasons as the Carne film; it has a genuine gallic charm and is more than carried by the fact that it stars two of the great stars of the French cinema of the period : Michele Morgan and the great Gerard Philipe. I say they are "partly" responsible because quite unexpectedly it has another darker dimension. The scene is France durin La Belle Epoque and in a provincial garrison town a young officer of dragoons with a reputation as a womaniser makes a bet that he can seduce any woman. The woman is picked by the winning number in a charity raffle but things go awry when the soldier actually falls in love with his victim and has to try to conceal the fact that they came together because of a wager among drunken soldiers. So far, so good, it is pure romantic comedy. But, in truth, it is a tragi-comedy and as the film moves towards its climax the desperation of the the soldier to convince the woman of his true love and the confusion anf hurt she experiences make it obvious that it is going to be difficult to avoid tragic consequences. The cliche would be a happy ending but Clair does not let these characters that we have really begun to care about of the hook. The film ends sadly with the woman rejecting the soldier. But Clair went further and there is an alternative ending (included on the DVD as an extra) which, presumably, was considered too harsh for audiences at the time which ends with a suicide. Both endings give the film unexpected depth. The cast also includes a very young and pretty Brigitte Bardot. Rating ****

Thursday, 2 September 2010

L'AIR DE PARIS (1954)

To me, Marcel Carne rates as one of the greatest of French directors but this is hardly on a par with his great films of the Thirties and Forties. The plot which involves an ex-boxer who owns a rundown boxing gymn who, on the point of retirement, discovers a young boxer of real talent who just as things begin to happen for him is distracted by an affair with a beautiful antique dealer (the gorgeous Corinne) is totally predictable (so much so that one of the characters even comments on the cliche of the situation. But it is atmospheric, never boring and reunites Jean Gabin and Arletty from Carne's JOUR SA LEVE and features Roland Lesaffre (who sticks in the mind as the smiling blackmailer from THERESE RAQUIN), so what's not to like? The boxing scenes are convincing. Rating ***

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958)

Henry Cass's BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE is one of those oddities thrown up in the wake of the success of the early Hammer films. Unlike Regal's duo of Karloffian thrillers - GRIP OF THE STRANGLER and CORRIDORS OF BLOOD - this one was not only in colour but had some legitimate Hammer blood in the form of a script by Jimmy Sangster. Despite the title (and the poster) it is not a genuine supernatural vampire tale but belongs rather to that sub-genre that also includes films as diverse as Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE and Ferroni's THE MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN and, as such is closely allied to the traditions of Paris's infamous Grand Guignol Theatre which has taken on an unhealthy turn in the recent crop of "torture porn" films. A doctor experimenting, none to conventionally, with blood diseases is executed for vampirism and a stake driven through his heart. Luckily a drunken medic is on hand to give him a heart transplant (this is Transylvania in 1873 after all said and done!) and a decade later we find him up to his old experiments while working as the governor of a prison for the criminally insane. Sadistic guards (headed by the later Labour MP Andrew Faulds), beatings, attempted rapes and human experiments are the order of the day until the evil Dr.Callistratus is unmasked and shares the fate of Franju's Dr, Genessier by literally going to the dogs. It's bright and garishly coloured like its Hammer rivals and has a more than interesting cast headed by Sir Donald Wolfit - last of the flamboyant barnstorming actor/managers of British theatre - and scream queen Barbara Shelley. The film's hero is Vincent Ball who is one of those Australian actors who, along with Bud Tingwell and others, made there names in British B-movies and television before returning down under to resume successful careers in their homeland. If you look quickly during the pre-credit sequence you will see Anglo-Indian actor Milton Reid who is fondly remembered as the mulatto mute in Hammer's CAPTAIN CLEGG. Comedy veterans Bernard Bresslaw and John LeMesurier both have small roles and LeMesurier's old friend (and mine) Denis Shaw turns up without any dialogue as a blacksmith. Special mention must be made of actor Victor Maddern, a long time stalwart of English movies, who brings a touch of humanity to the mad doctor's deformed and murderous assistant.Of personal interest to me is an appearance by actor George Murcell who for several years ran a successful theatre in a disused church in a street where I was living in London. Director Cass is best known for his 1949 romantic drama THE GLASS MOUNTAIN. Rating ***

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

COMPLIMENTARY, MR. HOLMES!


Modernising Sherlock Holmes never seems a good idea although in the past a few film-makers have attempted it without coming completely unstuck. There was a film with Raymond Massey where Holmes had a modern (for the Thirties) office and, of course, the Universal Pictures series of B-movies starring Basil Rathbone set Holmes and Watson down in the dark days of World War Two and provides some first class entertainment for everybody except the most rigid purists. So, modernising is not, in reality, quite as bad as it seems at first. The news that the BBC were producing a new series which relocated Holmes in the London of 2010 did seem a bit worrying but with writers like Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis on hand all has turned out well...very well indeed. The first series consists of three feature length films (more promised for the future) with the first being based on Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet - with a new back story but keeping John Watson's return from Afghanistan (how little things have changed), Holmes and Watson's first meeting, taking the rooms in Baker Street and Mrs.Hudson and Lestrade and the new title A Study in Pink. The second ventured into Sax Rohmer territory but had nods to both The Sign of Four and the Rathbone SPIDER WOMAN. The last of the three episodes pays homage to several Doyle stories including The Bruce Partington Plans and The Five Orange Pips and in a wonderfully creepy scene to Rondo Hatton's Creeper in PEARL OF DEATH. The casting is faultless with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, Martin Freeman as Dr.Watson , Rupert Graves as Lestrade, Mark Gattiss as Mycroft and Una Stubbs as Mrs,Hudson. Each modernisation is carefully thought out from Dr.Watson being a blogger to Holmes "This is a three nicotine patch problem!" and just incase you are wondering, yes, James Moriarty turns up and.....oh well, just buy the DVD (as an extra you get the 60 minute unaired pilot film)....trust me, I'm a blogger.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

SUSPECT/ The Risk (1960)


The Boulting Brothers, Roy and John, were already well into their stride as producers and directors of a string of classic social comedies when they took a diversion to make this almost forgotten and rather tame spy drama centered on a group of scientists who discover that their research can be used for germ warfare. It's all rather lacklustre and the main interest today is in the excellent cast of British character actors. Peter Cushing is excellent as the project boss and Tony Britton and Virgina Maskell are reliable leads. Good support comes from such reliables as Ian Bannen, Donald Pleasence, Thorley Walters and Sam Kydd. Spike Milligan is on hand to do some comedy relief with a chimpanzee which is obviously designed to lift the rather one note tone of the film but it seems overly silly and completely out of place. Watch it for its cast if little else. Rating **

IKARIE XB 1/Voyage to the End of the Universe (1963)


Stylistically sitting somewhere between SOLARIS and early STAR TREK this interesting Czech sci-fi drama about a spaceship voyaging to Alpha Centauri is pointed to as an influence on not only SOLARIS but 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY and even ALIEN. As it predates all these films it is hard to argue with that view. The film takes a psychological viewpoint as the crew face and overcome various problems on their journey. Most intriguing is the discovery of a derelict Earth spaceship from the 20th Century full of the corpses of humans wearing evening dress and who seemingly died while drinking champagne and gambling - perhaps, given the political regime in the country of origin at the time, a comment on the corrupt West. The version viewed is the original Czech version, letterboxed and sub-titled, rather than the dubbed and slightly re-edited version (with a different ending) that was released in America as VOYAGE TO THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. Rating ****

Monday, 26 July 2010

ME & ORSON WELLES (2009)


Orson Welles has always been a film hero of mine but increasingly in recent years I've come to believe that he was also a an asshole. A genius ? No doubt of that. I've also begun to realise that Orson Welles is as much a creation of Charles Orson Welles as Bob Dylan is a creation of Robert Zimmerman. Maybe it is a case of gods creating men in their own image. In Richard Linklater's film Welles (brilliantly played by english actor Christian McKay) says something like "If you hide yourself deep enough it makes it hard for people to hate you". That Welles was an egomaniac is undoubted and it is good that this film does not skirt that aspect of his character but it also goes a long way towards explaining why people put up with him. He could deliver the goods - not all the time - but enough times that even his failures become fascinating. Also he had enough charm and charisma to sell fridges to eskimos. This film is fiction woven into the true story of Welles' 1937 Mercury Theatre production CAESAR in New York. An aspiring young actor is hired to play a small role in the play and through his eyes we see the rehearsals and the openinging night as well as his affair with a girl who works at the theatre (usurped by Welles) and his final betrayal by the the famous actor. The film brilliantly recreates the New York theatre of the late Thirties (although amazingly most of it was filmed on The Isle of Man!) and the cast is quite exemplary. The film really hinges on the believability of McKay's Welles and, familiar as I am with Orson, from his first appearance it is like watching Welles himself. Plaudits too young Zac Efron who is excellent as the aspiring actor. It's always fun to see real people portrayed on the screen and here there is a veritable feast of goodies to choose from - Ben Chaplin as George Coulouis, James Tupper as Joseph Cotten, Eddie Marsem as John Houseman amongst others.Claire Danes and Zoe Kazan both capture just the right mood as two very different girls of the Forties. I really can't fault it. Based on the novel by Robert Kaplow. Rating *****

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Last Night in Mariebad.......

Last night I went back to that hotel in Marienbad. I must have seen Alain Resnais' film LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD half a dozen times since it was first released. It is a film that defies analysis and interpretation. Maybe it is a piece of pretentious nonsense and maybe it has something important to say. Of course, like anybody who sticks with the film until the end I have my own interpretation (which I do not ntend to tell you) that is much more straight forward than most of the others I have read. I love the film (it stars Delphine Seyrig so how could I not love it?) but beyond saying that I have no intention of reviewing did. Everytime I watch it I see things that I never saw before but last night I saw something I cannot believe that I have missed over the years. Eleven minutes into the film Alfred Hitchcock appears! I kid you not. At first I thought I'd imagined it so I replayed the scene and there he is. This morning I did a Google search and was relieved to find I am not going crazy and other viewers have spotted the great Alfred - or, it seems, a cardboard cutout of him. He's there - here's a picture to prove it (I have brightened the picture for clarity - the scene is much darker in the film).



Sunday, 18 July 2010

JULIE AND JULIA


A few years ago George Clooney made an interesting film about radio journalist Edward R. Murrow and his on-air campaign against witch-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy. Good as the film was it had one dramatic flaw. Murrow and McCarthy never met. The film never found a way around this. It may have been historically accurate but very unsatisfactory for the viewer who is waiting for some sort of consummation of the plot. Two films that fully understood this problem were MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS and KHARTOUM which took the decision (justified in my mind) to let Mary and Elizabeth I meet and to bring General Gordon and The Mahdi together. A film with actors, however historically accurate, is not a documentary. Orson Welles tells a story of meeting William Randolph Hearst in an elevator before the opening of CITIZEN KANE and offering him tickets to the premier. Personally, I don't believe that meeting ever took place - I think it was invented by Welles who realised it would be dramatically satisfying when telling the story of the making of his great film. This lack of meeting between the two central characters in JULIE AND JULIA is about the only thing wrong with this delightful film but to be fair it is hard to see how the film's makers could have solved the problem. It's easier to rearrange facts when separated by history. What makes things even more difficult for the film is that we, the audience, become very fond of Julie who is working her way through Julia Child's famous cook book and Julia herself whose life (or the bits of it concerning the writing of her book) we see in flashback. When we learn towards the end of the film that Julia hates what Julie is doing we are as devastated as the poor girl. We are carried through the film by Julie's enthusiasm for her self imposed task of cooking every recipe in the Child book in a year and we grow to love the eccentric Julia (superbly played by Meryl Streep) and when the rejection comes it sort of colors our previous perception of the latter. The friend with whom I watched the film was chomping at the bit to go out and buy Julia's book simply commented "What a bitch!" and decided to stick to Nigella Lawson in future. Rating ****

Friday, 16 July 2010

IL MULINO DELLE DONNE DI PIETRA/ Mill of the Stone Women/ Drops of Blood (1960)


I first saw this back ib the early 1960s as DROPS OF BLOOD in a print that was quite inferior to this DVD version. Was Giorgio Ferroni a good director or was this the one time in his career that all the elements came together at the right time? A good cast, a good story by Flemish writer Pieter van Weigen, great sets and good photography. Ferroni seems to have spebt most of his career churning out Peplum and Spaghetti Westerns but on the strength of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN I'd like to sample more of his work. An Italian/French co=production (the copy I saw had French dialogue with some scenes inexplicably in English as though it had been put together from two different prints) which has the benefit of some scenes that are seemingly filmed on location in Holland. As a horror film it has less in common with the other Italian shockers being made at the time than it does with the older tradition of Carl Dreyer's classic VAMPYR (although Ferrori's vampirism is of the medical variety), Andre DeToth's HOUSE OF WAX and Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, a film with which it shares certain plot elements. Ferroni conjures an atmosphere that effortlessly evokes the weirdness and beauty of the Dreyer masterpiece - I particularly liked the macabre funeral entorage at the ferry - and I do not exaggerate when I say that there are moments when he approaches the exquisitely cruel poetry of the Franju film. The cast, headed by Winnetou the Warrior himself, Pierre Brice and Scilla Gabel is fine with the villainy in the very capable hands of Wolfgang Preiss and Herbert Bohme. Impressive. Rating ****

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

HEY JUDE

I've not got around to seeing Guy Ritchie's SHERLOCK HOLMES starring Robert Downey Jr, as the eponymous detective. Despite generally favourable comments by friends who have seen the movie I've still got an aversion to anything with the name Guy Ritchie attached to it. Also, I find the casting a bit odd. I like Downey but can't quite see him as Holmes. However, I will catch up with the film probably sooner than later. Yesterday on IMDb came the news that the sequel will start filming in October. Jude Law (above left with Downey), who plays Dr.Watson, says he is unsure what the story of the film will be but "there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes novels to choose from." This statement by Law will come as a surprise to all Conan Doyle fans who until now thought there were only four! Or is Mr. Law referring to the countless non-canonical pastiche Holmes novels ?

Monday, 5 July 2010

TILL GLADJE/To Joy (1950) & GLYCKLAMAS AFTON/Sawdust and Tinsel 1953

Sjostrom, Nilsson and Olin into TO JOY
Today I heard that Swedish Television is making a four-part mini-series on the life of director Ingmar Bergman, written by his son-in-law. By sheer coincidence, last night I watched a double bill of early Bergman films. I am writing about them together because there are some remarkable similarities in themes and stories. Both films feature men who enjoy what they do for a living - one is a professional violinist while the other runs a small travelling circus - but have to come to terms with the reality that they are, at best, only competent at what they do and will never become stars. Both men have failing relationships in which one of the partners has an affair, Both films end, as so often in early Bergman films, on a note of hope....despite this the films are wildly different in style and tone. Of the two films I find that I admire the earlier film, TO JOY. The film takes its title from Beethoven's 9th Symphony with its "Ode to Joy" which is surely one of the most uplifting musical pieces of all. It is the story of two young violinist who play in a provincial orchestra - they are played by Maj-Britt Nilsson and Stig Olin (who bears a disconcerting resemblace to a young Kevin Costner) - who marry but find that they simply can't get along. An idyllic period following the birth of their twins is shattered by the revelation of Stig's affair. They part but eventually reunite and all seems well until the wife is killed by the explosion of a paraffin stove - this is not a spoiler as Bergman reveals this in the very opening scene of the film which is then told in flashback. But at the end of the film there is a wonderfully uplifting codicil which, as I said above, is typical early Bergman, and grabs hope from the jaws of tragedy. The depiction of the young couple with their bickering, concerns, jealousies and insecurities is both believable and moving. On a technical level, Bergman obviously enjoys filming the orchestra sequences which, no doubt, appealed to his love of classical music and gave his the opportunity to introduce the film's third significant character - the cantankerous old conductor, wonderfully played by the great Swedish director Victor Sjostrom (of WILD STRAWBERRIES) and the scene where a concert goes horribly wrong is directed in true Hitchcock style. Rating ****
Harriet Anderson and Ake Groberg in SAWDUST AND TINSEL
SAWDUST AND TINSEL is a very different barrel of pickled herring and, perhaps, closer to what we come to expect from Ingmar. It was, for me (despite my regarding Bergman as one of the great film artists) almost a parody of the great Swede at his most dour. The film begins with a tinkling fairground tune which, almost immediately, changes to an ominous chord which would not be out of place as the introduction to a horror film. A dark stormy night as the ragged wagons wind their way across the Swedish countryside. Bankrupt, without costumes and withoutout any star acts, the performers know that the next town will be their last chance. The owner's relationship with a younger woman is racked by jealousy (the film has elements of PAGLIACCI) and the discovery of the affair drives him to near suicide - despite his own attempt to betray her and his colleagues by leaving the circus and returning to his abandoned wife and son. But again Ingmar offers a glimmer of hope for his characters but here, instead of Beethoven's joyous celebratory, life affirming music, it is a mere smile, an acceptance of their fate - anything is better bthan nothing - because they have nowhere to go. The film is dark and sombre in mood and, to be honest, it's not one I'd rush to see again. There is a flasback sequence where the circus clown discovers his wife bathing naked with a group of Artillery officers - its crushing humiliation is even more effectively portrayed by being fimed like a silent German expressionist film. Rating ***

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

IN MEMORIAM : Last cast member of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE dies...

Corey Allen (r) with James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.
COREY ALLEN
1934 - 2o10

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

THE CHATTERLEY AFFAIR (2006)

Louise Delamere and Timothy Spall

Clever film. Written by Andrew Davies (wouldn't you know it?) the film tells of two (fictional) jurors at the (real life) trial in 1962 of Penguin Books to decide whether their publication of D.H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover contravened the Obscene Publications Act. The couple, she (Louise Delamere) is middle class, divorced, experienced and sophisticated, while he (Timothy Spall) is working class, married and a bit naive. While serving on the jury they begin an affair which reflects that in the book. The illicit romance makes him re-evaluate his life, expectations and values and she finds in the brief liason a fulfillment and happiness that seems to elude her in the rest of her life. We learn this as the film is told in flashback from the characters older selves (perfectly played by Claire Bloom and Kenneth Cranham). The trial itself is taken strictly from the actual transcripts and the parade of expert witnesses (including David Tennant) defending Lawrence's graphic depiction of the sexual act, actually comments on the morality of the affair of the two central characters. Being an Andrew Davies script the film has its share of material that some may find shocking in a television movie from the BBC with all Lawrences expletives paraded (if you want to hear Dr.Who talking dirty this is the film for you!) and graphic depictions of intercourse (and not too graphically oral and anal sex) and full frontal male nudity. The acting is superb and I found the characters totally believable - not to mention extremely likeable. The period atmosphere and detail is first class and the sparing use of pop music (often over-used in other films) as a link to separate the days of the trial works well. Plaudits all around. Rating ****

Monday, 21 June 2010

THE NAKED CITY (1948)


Jules Dassin's THE NAKED CITY has always seemed over-rated to me. True, it is an important film for its use of real New York locations. It has a good story and a good cast. Good as that cast is it is there that I find the film flawed. I'm not denying the worth of performers like Barry FitzGerald, Don Taylor and Howard Duff but here they seem totally at odds with the intended realistic style of the film. The worst offender is FitzGerald who I find totally unbelievable as the cop heading up the investigation of the murder of a model. FitzGerald, who is about 4ft 6in tall is referred to as an ex-beat cop! Maybe in Middle Earth arresting drunken Hobbits but as a detective here his comes over far too whimsical and "oirish". The realistic tone is further spoilt by the scenes of Don Taylor's home-life which is twee enough to have come from a 50's American sitcom. There is also a crushingly wrong footed narration by the film's producer, Mark Hellinger, whose comments on the action are at odds with the avowed documentary look of the film. On the plus side Ted DeCorsia is terrific as the heavy and the final chase through the New York streets is excellent. An enjoyable film, maybe a notable one but over-rated nonetheless. Rating ***

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

JET PILOT (1957)


A couple of years ago we were treated to the release of two long unavailable John Wayne aviation adventures (THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and ISLAND IN THE SKY) and now along comes another one. I've never seen JET PILOT on VHS or DVD before and as far as I recall not on television. Made under the banner of Howard Hughes it combines two of HH's great passions - aviation and pursuing young starlets. The film is a light romantic comedy masquerading as a spy story in much the same sub-genre as NINOTCHKA and SILK STOCKINGS but far below those templates in terms of quality. This is not to say that there isn't a lot for the cinephile to enjoy. For one thing it is the last film directed by the great Josef Von Sternberg. I don't know the circumstances but it certainly seems a strange project for Dietrich's svengali, the director of such classics as THE SCARLET EMPRESS and SHANGHAI EXPRESS and it seems that there is uncredited direction by Jules Furthman. Acting wise the film suffers from a rather stiff supporting cast which includes Jay C. Flippen and Wayne's old buddy Paul Fix as well as one scene from Hans Conreid. Praise must be given, however, to the two stars - John Wayne and Janet Leigh (the object of HH's desire) - as there is a real chemistry between them which I found completely charming and unexpected - not to mention quite sexy. The film was actually made in 1950 with the full co-operation of the U.S.Airforce. Because their co-operation was so full (they get star billing) the film's release was delayed for nearly seven years as some of the technology shown was still on the secret list - plus HH, as was his want, refilmed many scenes to keep up with the fast advance of aviation technology. The flying sequences are amongst the best I've ever seen and are a joy to watch. The stunt flying is mostly done by test pilot Chuck Yeager who later went on to be the first man to break the sound barrier in the X1 rocket plane which is featured heavily at the climax of JET PILOT masquerading as a Russian "Parasite fighter". Of course the movie is very much a piece of Red-baiting propaganda but as such it is a less offensive than Waynes's BIG JIM McLAIN. The film is slight and a bit silly with a totally unbelievable plot but once you accept that, if you like Wayne and don't mind eye-balling the gorgeous Miss Leigh, there is a lot to enjoy. The DVD I picked up was really cheap but the picture quality is absolutely superb. Rating ***

Monday, 14 June 2010

TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS (1948)

This was the last of the RKO Tarzan series featuring Johnny Weissmuller as Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle hero. Although the film is mildly entertaining and certainly not the worst of the series it is easy to see why the end was in sight. Weissmuller is too old for the part and is obviously overweight. Boy (usually played by Johnny Sheffield) is away being educated in England, there's a new smaller Cheetah and Tarzan is wearing sandals. The famous tree house is only seen in a couple of stock shots from earlier films with Jane and Tarzan's home being limited to a cramped soundstage set. Worst of all is the comedy relief provided by John Laurenz who bursts into song several times during the movie. Like most of the series during the 40's the African jungle is totally devoid of black natives and Tarzan's home seems to be situated a few miles upstream from a Mexican coastal village. The plot is a cast off from an old Republic serial with wicked whites masquerading as a talking idol to control the simple natives. On the plus side the main villain is George Zucco in High Priest mode who veers between looking as though he is enjoying himself and looking distinctly embarassed by the crown of seashells he has to wear in some scenes - but mostly the old Zucco twinkle is still there. The film benefits from an interesting location and some impressive sets. But it was obviously time for Weissmuller to put on his clothes again and become JUNGLE JIM for rival studio, Columbia. Rating ***